Written by Owen Tonks
27 Monday 27th September 2010
Originally a French-made television trilogy, Carlos documents the life of enigmatic international terrorist and pro-Palestinian political activist Carlos the Jackal, real name Ilich Ramírez Sánchez.
Carlos was linked to a number of assassinations, terrorist attacks and hostage situations around the world and spent his later years hiding from the law under Government protection around the Middle East. The film follows the two decades between the attempted assassination of a British businessman in London in 1974 and Carlos’ arrest by the French Government in Khartoum, Sudan in 1994.  
My knowledge of the French television drama series was minimal before watching the film version and I imagined 159 minutes of badly dubbed footage or endless subtitles.
The original television series has a runtime of 334 minutes and took Director Olivier Ossayas and Writer Dan Franck almost two years to research and write resulting in a screenplay of just under 300 pages. The film is based across 10 countries and is a suitable mix of period, action and drama to hold the viewers attention for the whole film.
The research and imagination that went into the writing and filming of the screenplay really shows and only once is the attention to detail let down during an airport scene where the jets of modern airlines can be seen in the background. Otherwise, the convincing clothing, older vehicles and dated building decor add to the authenticity of the film.
The talent of the director and production team is visible with Ossayas saying: “To be honest, I never imagined I would be given such free rein to make the film for which I had such a complete image in my mind so early on. Despite the total support and trust of my producers from the very beginning, I thought that, as often happens at one stage or another, they’d clip the wings of the Carlos I wanted to make, and that in the end, the film wouldn’t get made because we wouldn’t be able to agree on the basic principles that I considered to be non-negotiable.”
On Carlos, Ossayas said: “He is a violent man, a killer, fascinated by weapons and by his own virility. But he is also an adventurer of his time, who went right to the very limits of a story.”
The choice of Edgar Ramírez to play Carlos extends the convincing reality of the film with obvious similarities between the two. Both Carlos and Ramírez are of Venezuelan origin, with Ramírez able to speak fluent Spanish, English and French and both are of a similar stature, build and toughness. Ramírez’s performance is engaging making him the perfect choice.
Edgar Ramírez was unable to meet Carlos in person for legal reasons but did approach various members of his family, his friends and former mistresses as well as conducting extensive literary research.
On playing such an intricate character, Ramírez said: “It was very intense. I’ve always been drawn to characters that are hard to fathom and who operate on the boundary of humanity. I like roles that allow me to question my own values and to gain a better grasp of the paradoxes in human nature. I understood that I had to feel a minimum of empathy for Carlos if I wanted to represent the character as honestly as possible. Otherwise, I’d have turned him into a cliché.”
Overall Carlos is a convincing and engaging film that has been well made and portrayed by a talented cast.
Carlos screens as part of the BFI London Film Festival on October 16 and is released on October 22.

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